Why do we tip in restaurants?

This past weekend I decided to go out to a couple of bars and restaurants to watch some football. It’s an activity that millions of Americans take part in, and it’s a great way to socialize. However, after ordering a burger and a few beers that are reasonably priced, you have one last charge that costs you 20% minimum…and if you don’t pay that or more, you’re an elitist jerk who doesn’t understand the horror that waitresses go through every day. Yup, it’s the tip at the end…and I hate the practice of tipping.

Having an incentive for your work is nothing new in the world. There are plenty of jobs where nearly your entire salary is based on commissions. Everyone hates telemarketers right? They call during dinner and are pushy and make you feel dumb if you don’t purchase their services. No one feels bad saying no to them, hanging up on them or flat out being rude to them. When you hang up on them, or say no, you are hurting their chances of making a living for their family. Yet that’s the exact same argument that’s given for why we HAVE TO TIP OUR WAITERS. That’s the argument I hear consistently from people who are pro tipping. “They deal with horrible people all day and make only $2 an hour. It’s a terrible job and if you go out to eat you need to take care of them.” Why is it that this is the only profession that we feel that we have to take care of the people serving us?

There are a lot of theories behind that, some people have said that tip stands for “to insure promptness.” However if that was the case, wouldn’t we tip at the beginning of the meal to make sure the waiter did a good job? Then what if he didn’t? Would we demand our tip back? How did this whole thing get started anyway? Through some research, it appears that the practice started here in America in the 19th century when wealthy American businessmen would return from Europe. The practice of tipping was established there at the time, and the wealthy decided it would do well here in America. However it was resisted at first, people in America considered it bribery and would have no part of it. However, when restaurant owners found a way to not pay their employees, and pass those costs down to the customer directly, they jumped on it. They lobbied until the practice became standard. Strangely enough, in most European countries today, tipping is frowned upon.

Whenever I’ve gone out to eat with people who have worked in the food service industry, they have always tipped generously. Whenever I ask them the reason for this, their response is almost always, “These servers get paid next to nothing for their hourly wage. They live completely off of tips and they deserve it.” While I completely understand their reasoning, I am constantly confused why the food service industry gets away with paying their employees next to nothing, and other industries are regulated so their employees can’t receive a tip of any sort. I’ve been told that servers have to deal with rude customers, messy children, people who treat them like dirt, and an overall crappy job. Well I can say that after my days as a bank teller for both a credit union and large bank, I can see a lot of similarities. People are consistently rude, forceful, and downright hostile (ever heard of a bank robbery?) The employees work long hours and in many cases are on their feet the entire time (many bank branches feel that if the tellers are sitting it is not as professional.) They have to deal with children running around the building and rarely get any bonuses or commissions of value. But in this industry it’s not customary to tip.

I feel that the solution is simple, let’s make the restaurants pay their employees for once. I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve gone out to a restaurant and just ordered water to drink…and then had the server completely lose interest in helping me. Apparently if I order water instead of a soda or alcohol, it means I’m a cheapskate and therefore will not tip well. I would rather have waiters and waitresses work their jobs for a wage, and if I feel their service was exemplary, then I’d leave them a little something extra. I don’t feel like I’m giving someone incentive to work hard for me if they know everyone is going to give them a 20% tip right off the bat. It’s very likely that if this ever changes, the price of my food at a restaurant would go up in order to offset the “lost wages” the restaurants will have to face. I’m perfectly willing to pay an extra 20% to know that my server is getting paid a fair wage for a fair job. I can completely identify with the difficulty of a waiter’s job, it’s not easy by any means, but why am I the bad guy for wanting their employer to pay them a decent wage instead of me?

I really wish this could happen someday. But I can dream
I really wish this could happen someday. But I can dream


7 thoughts on “Why do we tip in restaurants?

  1. Something I read the other day: the minimum wage for people who receive tips (just over 2 bucks an hour) has not been raised since 1991, because restaurant lobbyists have fought tooth and nail to prevent an increase. Prior to that, it was a fixed percentage of the regular minimum wage.

    So, uh, great industry!

  2. In Japan, the servers absolutely don’t want to be tipped. The Japanese find it offensive or it makes them uncomfortable to accept the tip. I believe they don’t understand why we tip our waiters and waitresses here in the U.S. when it should be the employers who should be responsible to give them a decent check. Eating at a restaurant in Tokyo was extremely easy when both me and my mom didn’t have to figure out the tip.

    I do agree it should be the employers who should be giving people in the service industry a decent salary instead of it being the diner’s responsibility to make up most of their wages. The tip should just be an added bonus for exemplary service, if your server made your dining experience a pleasant one.

  3. Good post, and great point. They should be paid more. And you’re totally right; I hate it if I go out and eat somewhere and there’s a 20% service charge on the bill. It’s not massively common here, but even if I’ve had good service I resent it being added on. I want to choose what to tip and if to tip. My dad always tips, and he always gives a bit more if the waiter/waitress has been polite or friendly or has just given a little extra to, you know, make the experience enjoyable. I do the same with taxis. It usually costs me £10 to get home after a night out. If I’ve sat in silence the whole way (sometimes without even the radio!) I’ll hand over whatever the ride costs, rounded up because I usually can’t be bothered to count out the change. But I’ve had a lot of times where the driver has been friendly, chatty, asking me about my night or my job or whatever. Had a great taxi driver before who I ended up talking to about having seen Whitesnake recently. In those cases, I’ll dig out whatever pound coins are in my purse and very happily hand them over. And they’re always really surprised, which makes me feel their chattiness/niceness hasn’t just been an act to get money, especially as the same used to happen when I was a student.

  4. Thank you for all of your comments on this article. I feel like a lot of my frustrations in tipping come from the fact that I am consistently told how I servers are so horribly paid and that it’s my responsibility to take care of them when I go out to eat. For some reason a lot of people out there aren’t seeing the bigger picture that restaurants are getting away with murder figuratively. They run their business without paying their employees anything of value, yet people are protesting that McDonald’s workers are the ones who are underpaid. I would just rather not be coerced into paying someone because I feel bad for them, I want to pay them because they truly did a wonderful job. I wish that existed in every industry.

  5. As a waitress I….
    … Completely agree with you.

    I get paid very little hourly, so I heavily rely on the money I make in tips. It’s ridiculous to make the customer pay the server to offset the restaurant being greedy. In addition to that, I have to tip out 3% of my total SALES to various people like the busser and the bartender. That means if I sold $1000 worth of food and made $90 in tips, I still have to tip out $30, so I take home $60. This also means if enough tables stiffed me, I actually have to pay to work.

    A handful of restaurants have decided to get rid of tips and instead raise the price of their food to balance it out. Unfortunately this pissed a lot of people off because suddenly, it became too expensive to eat out. My simple advice to them: if you can’t afford to eat out, then don’t.
    Simply put, a tip should be what you said: a treat to the server saying “hey, you did a great job!” Not something mandatory. But until restaurants pay their employees fairly, tipping has to stay.

    Oh, and despite being a server, I don’t always tip 20% BECAUSE I know what it feels like to be a server. I’ve been through it all. I’ve served the loud alcoholic slurring at me demanding why I had to cut him off from the bar, the teenagers that dined and dashed, the elderly couple that needs me to cut their steak for them because their own children won’t do it while I have six other tables trying to get my attention, the lady who sends her food back because it doesn’t look like the picture in the menu, the douchebag who insists I got his order wrong despite me writing it down and reading it back to him before I ordered it. Hell, one of my coworkers nearly got punched in the face.

    The point is, I totally know what any server is going through and unless I can see they’re in the weeds with 8 tables and no help, there’s absolutely no excuse to be inattentive. Basically, if they were outstanding at their job, 20% and above. If they did everything right, but just that, then 15-18%. If they were a little slow due to talking or messing around, 10%ish. If they were flat out rude to me (like rolling eyes when I asked for something) they get a frowny face in pennies because there’s no excuse for that behavior ANYWHERE. Essentially, I tip based on the service I get because as stressful as it is to deal with rude people, serving isn’t nearly as hard as some people claim it is.

    P.S I’m sorry for writing a novel.

    1. I love the novel! I haven’t been a server so I can’t empathize exactly with the issues you’ve ran into, but I’ve heard a lot of horror stories. I would say that a server’s job is demanding, but not extremely difficult if that makes sense. I would love to try some of these restaurants that don’t allow tips and have higher prices. I feel like I probably would get the best service I’ve ever had since the server doesn’t have to try to dance like a monkey for a tip. Thank you for your comment!

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